Pennsylvania sex abuse scandal

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday, the 21st of August, 2018.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up on The World and Everything in It: Sex abuse and the church.

Last week we reported on a Pennsylvania grand jury’s stunning findings: More than 300 Catholic priests sexually abused children over a 70-year period. Known victims number more than 1,000.

REICHARD: Here to discuss this story and its implications for Protestants is Boz Tchividjian. He’s a former prosecutor who founded the organization GRACE. That’s an acronym for: Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment.

We’ve heard the topline numbers, but there’s a lot of detail in the grand jury report. What stuck out to you?

BOZ TCHIVIDJIAN, GUEST: Well, I haven’t made my way through all, I think it’s 1,300, at least 1,300 pages, but I can tell you as I began reading is one of the things that stood out to me that resonated with me in my experience in even dealing with this issue within the Protestant world is the following sentence from the grand jury. They said, “But all of them,” and they mean the child sexual abuse victims, “were brushed aside in every part of the state by church leaders who preferred to protect the abusers and their institution above all.” And I thought, wow, how absolutely tragic that a church that proclaims the gospel about a God who sacrifices himself in order to redeem the individual, actually lived out the polar opposite of that truth.

REICHARD: It’s so sad. Well, this is only one state—and that’s not even all of it. We’re all familiar with the story of what happened in Boston a few years ago, so I think the question on many minds is: Do we have reason to believe this kind of abuse and cover up may have happened elsewhere? Meaning, have investigations been done in Florida and Texas and California and all around the country?

TCHIVIDJIAN: I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that this type of abuse, this systemic abuse within this system has not occurred in every one of the jurisdictions of this country. A few years ago I was encouraged to learn that in Australia, the Australian government formed what was called the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. And for over a year, I think it’s extended beyond that, this commission looked into institutional responses both within the church and outside the church to disclosures of child sexual abuse. And what it did is it exposed a tremendous amount of systemic abuse that was going on within institutions and the failure of these institutions to respond to it. And it wasn’t focused on one particular area of the country or one particular organization, but the entire country and all youth service organizations. Canada’s done something similar to that. They are doing right now what’s called a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and so my hope is that at some point in time in this country, and I think the time is now, that the United States either form some type of commission that is similar to what went on in Australia so we can finally bring all of this, not bits and pieces, but all of this darkness to light. And I give the attorney general of Pennsylvania a lot of credit to form a grand jury that was going to look into all of these issues within that state. And the benefit of a grand jury over a commission is the grand jury can actually bring criminal charges against the perpetrators. So, one of my hopes—short and long-term hopes—coming out of this deeply disturbing report from Pennsylvania is that others in this nation as a whole say if that’s so prevalent within one state, we can only begin to imagine the prevalence of this issue around the country, inside the Catholic Church and outside the Catholic Church and we need to have a comprehensive way of finding that out and addressing it.

REICHARD: Well, a New York Times religion reporter by the name of Laurie Goodstein said she thinks the sex abuse scandal rocking the Catholic Church has done more damage to Rome than anything since the Reformation. Now, that is a pretty big claim. What do you think?

TCHIVIDJIAN: It’s a significant claim, but how can you not say that when you get an over 1,300 page report focused on one church, the Catholic church, that has identified over 1,000 child sexual abuse victims. This is coming from a church that professes to follow the One who held children up in the highest esteem, the One who talked about tying millstones around people who hurt children. And we know that if there were 1,000 identified, how many others haven’t been able to be identified? So, this is a significant—significant isn’t even the right word. It’s a profound issue within the Catholic Church. And I was disappointed that as quick as this report came out, you would have hoped you would have heard a very, incredibly strong, direct statement from Rome about this. It took too long in my opinion. My goodness.

REICHARD: Most of our listeners are Protestant, Boz, so I’m wondering what you think are the implications for the Protestant world?

TCHIVIDJIAN: I think it’s also really important for Protestants who are listening to this show to not get stuck pointing our fingers at our Catholic brothers and sisters because I can tell you—because I’ve dealt with this for over 20 years—the issue is no less prevalent within the Protestant world, it’s just harder to detect because we’ve got many denominations and most of those are decentralized. And so it’s really hard to identify and address in the way that it’s been done within the Catholic Church.

REICHARD: Boz Tchividjian is executive director of GRACE; that’s Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment. Thank you for talking to us today.


(AP Photo/Esteban Felix) People light candles during a vigil for the victims of sexual abuse by priests outside the Cathedral in Santiago, Chile, Monday, Aug. 20, 2018. 

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